How Much Is an Uninsured Motorist Claim Worth?
Generally, a car accident claim is worth the total of your damages, but you may not always collect this amount for several reasons:
- Every insurance policy has a limit on what it will pay. If your damages exceed this cap, you will only be able to collect up to the limit. Suing the uninsured driver for the balance is a possibility, but this may not be a worthwhile pursuit if they don’t have the financial resources to pay a judgment.
- Many people underestimate their own damages or don’t realize how much money an accident has cost them until after accepting an offer from an insurance company. You can avoid this situation by speaking with a car accident lawyer before beginning the claims process.
- Colorado and Wyoming use modified comparative negligence statutes for tort cases like car accidents. This means you don’t have to prove the other driver is entirely at fault for the accident, only that they are primarily responsible. However, if you are found to have some degree of fault, this percentage will be removed from your final award. An example would be if your damages were $30,000, and you were 10 percent at fault, you would only receive $27,000.
Do You Have to Prove the Uninsured Driver is at Fault to Make an Uninsured Motorist Claim on Your Own Insurance?
Yes. Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance (also called UM/UI) is designed to protect you from getting stuck with a bill for damage caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. If the other driver wasn’t at least primarily responsible for the crash, you can’t collect on a UM/UI policy regardless of their lack of insurance. The uninsured driver can, however, collect from your liability insurance if you are mostly at fault (more than 50 percent).
Fault is not always simple to determine, which is one of several reasons we recommend consulting a lawyer about your car accident claim, whether or not the other driver is insured. If there is strong evidence that you were mainly responsible, we will look at other options for covering your damages, such as MedPay or Collision coverage (which are optional add-ons you might have on your auto insurance).
How Long Does an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Claim Take?
It depends on several factors, including how much ambiguity there is about fault, the insurance company’s willingness to negotiate, and the amount of damages involved. Generally, cases where the fault is relatively easy to establish move more quickly. Cases with high amounts of damages often take more time for us to negotiate a settlement because we have to ensure all your losses are covered.
How is Fault Established in a Car Accident?
Obtaining a copy of the police report from your accident is usually where we start. If the other driver was ticketed for a moving violation, that’s often significant evidence they were at fault. However, they can still claim you contributed to the accident. If you were both ticketed, that might complicate things. Fortunately, an experienced attorney can help you refute claims about your role in the accident if you believe the ticket was unfair or the other driver’s recollection of the crash is inaccurate.
When we begin working on your case, we assign a team of investigators to canvas the accident scene and search for further evidence, which may include:
- Witnesses who weren’t interviewed earlier. The responding law enforcement officer will try to interview any witnesses still at the scene when they arrive. In some cases, there may have been other witnesses who moved on before the police arrived or were overlooked.
- Video or photos of the accident. Sometimes we can recover video footage from a nearby doorbell or security camera. This must be done quickly because video files are often deleted frequently for more storage room, so please contact a lawyer as soon as possible. If you took pictures at the scene, including the damage to your car, these are also helpful.
- Black box data from both cars. American-made cars produced after 2012 should all have an event data recorder, or EDR, and a message noting its use in the car’s manual. The EDR records a wealth of data about an “event” or crash, including the speed and direction of the car and the driver’s actions, such as hitting the brake. This data can be valuable in recreating the accident and determining what went wrong.
- Smartphone records. These might be helpful in learning if the other driver was on their phone instead of paying attention to their driving.
Negotiating with the Insurance Company
This process can take weeks or months, depending on the circumstances of the case. We usually negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, but if they are uninsured, we will work out a settlement with your insurance company (assuming you have UM/UI coverage).
Frequently, the bulk of the negotiating process is spent discussing fault. The insurance company may argue that the other driver had some fault but was not primarily at fault. Or they might admit the other driver was mostly at fault, but reduce your award for an unreasonably high percentage of responsibility attributed to you. These situations are very common, and the average person finds it difficult to get anywhere with the insurance company when they happen.
But an experienced car accident lawyer knows how to handle these issues with insurance adjusters. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard compiling evidence – and why it’s so crucial that you contact us before any evidence can be erased. In many cases, we spend time submitting evidence of the other driver’s fault and listing reasons why your percentage of responsibility should be considered minimal. Then, we wait for a response from the insurance company, which can take time and is out of our control. We will check back with the insurance adjuster if we don’t hear anything in a reasonable time, and we’ll keep you updated on our progress, but this part can last for months in some cases.
Discussing Damages in Your Car Accident
Aside from fault, we may also negotiate about your damages. Sometimes the insurance adjuster will concede that the other driver was at fault but may question some of your costs. They might, for example, argue that you don’t need a certain medical treatment, and we will fight to get you the treatment you need.
What Other Situations Are Covered by UM/UI Insurance?
UM/UI insurance will usually cover hit-and-run accidents once the insurer is confident that the police are unlikely to identify and locate the driver. If the driver is located after the fact, the insurance company will recover their expenses from the other driver’s insurance through a process called subrogation.
You can also use UM/UI insurance if you are struck by an uninsured driver while walking or riding a bike – you don’t have to be in your covered vehicle at the time. Additionally, UM/UI will cover passengers in your car who are injured up to the policy limit.
What If Your Damages Exceed Your UM/UI Policy Limit?
We will look for other ways to recover your remaining damages. In certain situations, if you have multiple cars covered by your insurance, you may be able to “stack” your policy coverage. For instance, if you have $50,000 in stackable UM/UI insurance on your two cars and $80,000 in damages, you could get $30,000 from the policy covering your second car, even though it was not involved in the accident. Coupled with the $50,000 in UM/UI coverage on your first car, you would get your $80,000 in damages paid in full.
Once your own insurance policies are exhausted, we will consider if a lawsuit against the other driver is likely to be productive. In rare cases, we might also consider a claim against a third party who contributed to the accident. For example, in some situations, a bar or restaurant could be liable if they served alcohol to someone who was either underage or visibly intoxicated, and that person later drove drunk and caused your accident.
How to Find Out What Your Uninsured Motorist Claim is Worth
If you think you’ll wait for the insurance company to tell you, please reconsider. As noted earlier, insurance companies frequently undervalue claims. For this reason, we advise anyone who’s been in a car accident to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer to determine your damages. Your lawyer will go over all possible damages in your case and what they might be worth, then help you arrive at a number to pursue.
Have you already received an offer from the insurance company? It’s not too late to get legal advice, and we strongly suggest doing so before you sign anything. If the insurance company’s offer is fair, you can go ahead and sign it. If not, we can help you negotiate for a more comprehensive settlement.
If you or a loved one have been injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver in Colorado or Wyoming, please contact the Olson Law Firm for a free consultation about your case. Attorney Sean Olson has been helping injured people learn about their options and pursue compensation since 2011. His goal is to listen to accident victims and help them get the assistance they need to recover. To this end, he personally meets with each client, learns about their case, and explains potential next steps so they can make an informed decision.